Are you not from Belarus?

Does your family come from Belarus? No? Are you sure? The borders were changed so many times it can be hard to know where that grandma of yours really comes from: Russia, Poland, Ukraine or Belarus. Think twice - you could join quite a hall of fame.

The are two main groups of Belarus-born people. You can illustrate them via the presidents of Israel and Ukraine. The Jewish family of Shimon Peres left Belarus to help create the newly-established country. The family of Viktor Yanukovych left simply looking for a job.

Belarus' Jewish communities in Pinsk, Bobruisk and Vitebsk gave the world Marc Chagall and his teacher Yehuda Pen, the writers Mendele Mocher Sforim, David Pinski and Solomon Simon and the lexicographer Eliezer Ben Yehuda. You might say the writer Etgar Keret is Israeli, but his father was born here. The Israeli politicians Chaim Weizmann, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir are 'ours,' as is the family of Golda Meir.

Belarusian Jewish migrants to the US gave us Kirk Douglas, Ralph Lauren and Steven Ballmer (yes, the Microsoft CEO). Philip Chess, the co-founder of Chess Records, was born in Belarus, as was David Sarnoff, the pioneer of American commercial radio and television and the songwriter Irving Berlin. Belarusian Jews made great American scientists and chess players.

They ended up in all sorts of places - Belarus-born Sidney Baevski Myer created Myer, Australia's largest chain of department stores.

The notorious Soviet diplomat Andrei Gromyko (a.k.a. Mr No), the Russian politician Anatoly Chubais and stateswoman Valeriya Novodvorskaya are from here.

The families of US actors Lisa Kudrow and David Suchet moved from Belarus. I think we can also claim one of Leonardo DiCaprio's grannies!

Who takes your fancy? The builder of Russia's Sukhoi military jets, Pavel Sukhoi? The founder of cultural-historical psychology, Lev Vygotsky? Gymnast Olga Korbut? Maybe the father of the Cheka (the Bolshevik secret police), Felix Dzerzhinsky, or his colleague, the the first man to take charge of both Israeli secret services, the Mossad and the Shin Bet, Isser Harel?

How about Stuttgart midfield Alexander Hleb? Ice hockey forward Andrei Kostitsyn? His brother, winger Sergei Kostitsyn? The wrestler Alexander Medved? The winner of the 2009 World Chess Cup, Boris Gelfand? Fashion model Maryna Linchuk?

I could also give you the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Polish composer Michal Kleofas Oginski and the Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski. The first lady of the Republic of China on Taiwan Faina Chiang Fang-liang (born Vakhreva) as well as Marina, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald, come from Belarus.

You might argue that they are not Belarusians sensu stricto. But they were born here. There must be something in the air. Maybe the water.

Globalisation negates the importance of a person's place of birth. But there are people who left Belarus and remained Belarusians, accentuated their origin. In these brand new lives in Argentina or the UK, they mad space for the Belarusian language and traditions.

Not all of our eminent emigres are figures of history.

Living in the Netherlands today is the Belarusian artist Andrei Zadorine, in France, Boris Zaborov, in Brussels, Natalia Zaloznaya and Igor Tishin live in Brussels. Their student Andrey Dureiko lives in Germany. All over the world there are successful Belarusians in banking, design, computing. Some of them prefer not to talk about their Belarusian passport in order not to lose it: Belarus does not allow dual citizenship.

But the number one Belarusian in the world is Boris Kit. This outstanding rocket scientist and Belarusian turned 100 a couple of days ago. Today he lives in Frankfurt am Main but remains truly devoted to his language and his motherland. Perhaps he is the man to make you feel that, in fact, it is a pity not to come from Belarus:

Tags: Alexander Hleb, Anatoly Chubais, Chaim Weizmann, Etgar Keret, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Golda Meir, Lisa Kudrow, Marc Chagall, Pavel Sukhoi, Shimon Peres, Steven Ballmer, Victor Yanukovyc


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